Since the inception of retail, customers have consistently made demands of stores and service providers, with the notion that the customer is always right. However, recent increases in prices and the rising cost of living have made consumers more unpredictable in their shopping choices. As a result, technology has played a significant role in the retail landscape over the past year, as both consumers and retailers venture further into the omnichannel arena.
At the beginning of the year, we explored some of the most talked-about technology trends in the retail industry, highlighting various retailers who have embraced these technologies. These trends encompass a combination of technologies that enhance retailers’ online and physical offerings, including artificial intelligence (AI), connectivity, cloud, and immersive reality.
While augmented reality (AR) may not be the first technology that comes to mind when discussing retail tech innovation, numerous retailers have been experimenting with AR apps that allow users to see how furniture would look in their homes or how cosmetics would appear on their faces. We delved deeper into some of the retailers who have successfully turned these trials into actual features and explored the applications of this technology.
Another aspect of adopting and transforming technology in retail is convincing higher-level individuals, including board members, to give their approval. This involves explaining technological concepts in a way that non-tech team members can comprehend and demonstrating the value of transformation projects. We shared advice from industry experts on how to facilitate tech transformation within retail businesses.
Due to the pandemic, the way people work has drastically changed, and retailers are no exception. With a rise in remote work, firms must have the necessary technology and processes in place to support this shift. In an interview, Very Group CIO Matt Grest discussed how his team adapted to lockdown and how the protocols for working from home have evolved alongside changing needs and preferences.
Technology serves numerous purposes in the modern world, but just because it can be applied to a situation doesn’t mean it should. AI has been the most prominent technology discussed over the past year, with its applications in retail ranging from helpful chatbots to inventory management systems. However, there are also concerns about the widespread use of AI, and we discussed how retail businesses plan to utilize this technology while also addressing customer fears of AI going too far.
Online retail has been steadily growing over the past few years, and the pandemic has further accelerated this trend as people were forced to rely on online shopping. In April of this year, online sales made up a quarter of all retail sales for three consecutive months. However, the cost-of-living crisis has still affected consumer behavior, causing many customers to return to physical stores in search of better deals, particularly in stores without an online presence.
As customers return to physical stores, they now expect an enhanced experience when visiting shops. Many consumers desire a compelling reason to visit a physical location and are open to the idea of technologically driven clothing stores that offer personalization, contactless payment, and immersive experiences. This trend has been ongoing for the past five years or more, with physical stores embracing technology to create meaningful experiences that entice consumers.
The abandonment of online shopping carts serves as evidence of growing consumer demands and selectiveness. Research from Primer found that nearly 40% of online shopping carts are abandoned, often due to poor payment experiences. Delivery charges also pose a significant issue for customers, with 46% expressing their dissatisfaction with this aspect of online shopping.
In addition to delivery fees, a complicated returns process can deter consumers from shopping online, especially when customers prefer to order multiple sizes of the same garment, try them on at home, and return the ones that don’t fit. We explore how some retailers are leveraging technology to streamline the returns process, particularly as more retailers are having to charge for returns due to the costs involved in managing them.
Throughout 2023, there has been a notable focus on the physical store as customers have returned to in-person shopping. This shift has been driven by the easing of pandemic restrictions and the desire to find good deals. Paul Cooper, director of technology operations at River Island, shared how the brand has utilized technology to revamp its stores, with the initial spark coming from the need for improved communication during Covid-19 lockdowns.